Heidelberg’s property bid sparks spat with Detroit
Leaders of Detroit’s Heidelberg Project are turning to the public for help pushing the city to allow the group to buy properties it long has kept up near the iconic outdoor art exhibit.
A petition launched online this week claims Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and city officials have been “uncooperative” as Heidelberg administrators pursue the next phase for the display that attracts thousands of visitors to its home on the city’s east side.
The nonprofit owns 13 properties around the internationally recognized site, but founder Tyree Guyton and his team also maintain about 40 additional lots nearby, including many owned by the Detroit Land Bank, according to the petition.
The project applied to buy those spots as part of its transformation into “Heidelberg 3.0,” or arts-focused neighborhood. But the leaders allege the city twice denied the application without an explanation.
“The Heidelberg Project has been working in a neighborhood forgotten by the city of Detroit for 31 years. People respect that,” Jenenne Whitfield, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.
“We took care of properties the city wouldn’t or couldn’t care for and we helped build a bridge from old Detroit to new Detroit in the process. Never has it been more important for people to stand up and fight the unfair and exclusionary practices being exhibited by the Detroit Land Bank.”
Craig Fahle, a spokesman for the land bank, said the group “reserve(s) the right to approve or disapprove any application that comes in, and we do our due diligence on all of them, but this is a much larger type of development than is typical for our Community Partnership program.” He added that such as a proposal likely would need further approval from Detroit’s Planning Department and City Council.
The mayor briefly addressed the controversy last week during an unrelated endorsement event ahead of the primary election.
“I haven’t made any effort to dismantle the Heidelberg project. But there are a lot of homeowners in that area that have a lot of complaints with what is going on,” Duggan said last Wednesday. “So we took the position that was we just weren’t going to expand it. I think there are a lot of homeowners in the area that agree.
“Heidelberg is free to keep operating where they have been operating. Nobody in the city has made any effort to interfere with that, but I also don’t think it’s fair for the surrounding homeowners to expand it with property sales. I think we’ve got the right balance. We’ve got to balance the interests of everybody.”
Since the petition launched this week, about 350 people have signed on to support the Heidelberg, Whitfield said.
But others have a different view. Chico Sorrell, who lives near the project, recently circulated a letter expressing concerns he and other residents share about the project plans. They seek more input on what materializes and seek an enterprise that hopefully spurs revitalization, he said.
“What we’re asking for is development that includes the residents,” he said.
The project has been moving forward on a transformation.
In 2016, Guyton announced he would begin the long process of dismantling freestanding parts of the open-air Heidelberg Project.
And this year, its headquarters in Midtown Detroit relocated following the sale of the building. The offices are now in a building in the city’s West Village neighborhood, representatives said Wednesday.